How to manage the document life cycle

Not all documents require a full lifecycle, but if you understand the nature of building documents, you will be better able to plan for the time required to complete them successfully.

It's important for the project manager to recognize the stages that a document must go through from creation to completion. This knowledge allows the project manager to understand the overall status of a document at any given time and helps ensure adequate time is allocated on the workplan for the completion of the document.

Here is why it's important: When a team member says he can complete a document in two weeks, for instance, is he saying that the document will be ready to circulate in two weeks or that the document will be completed and totally approved in two weeks? Not all documents need to go through all the stages of document creation and approval. However, depending on the document, one or more of these steps will be required:

  • Preparation. Sometimes you can sit down and just start writing your document. Other times you need to prepare and plan. This is especially true as your document gets larger and more complex. In many cases you're not able to start writing because you don't have your thoughts structured. Preparation and planning, which includes outlining the content and structuring the sections, will help you get started.
  • Initial Document Creation. In this step, the document draft is created initially. Most of the effort associated with creating a document is in this step. Subsequent steps may take a long duration, but they don't take nearly as much effort.
  • Feedback and Modification (Iterative). These two steps involve circulating the document for initial review and feedback. The document is updated based on the review comments. Depending on the particular document, this may be an iterative step. A document may have an internal review, followed by a stakeholder review, followed by a management review. After each of these reviews, the document is subsequently modified based in the feedback and sent to the next step.
  • Approval. When the document has been circulated for feedback and subsequently updated, it will be ready for final approval. Some documents should be formally approved in writing. Others are simply considered complete after the final round of feedback is received.

You might be surprised to read the term "lifecycle" as it relates to documentation. However, if you look closely, you can see a traditional lifecycle involved.

  • Preparation (analysis and design)
  • Initial document creation (construct)
  • Feedback and modification (test)
  • Approval (implementation)
  • Subsequent updates and modifications (support / enhancements)

Now it should look more familiar as a lifecycle. Remember that not all documents require a full lifecycle. However, if you understand the nature of building documents, you will be better able to plan for the time required to complete them successfully.